the Gospel argues against war—and yet we make war with … wild enthusiasm

 

The work we know today as the King James Bible (KJV, 1611) was strongly influenced by the first edition of the New Testament to appear in the English language, the work of William Tyndale (1526). In fact, 92% of the wording of Tyndale’s English NT was retained by the KJV’s translators. Tyndale’s English translation was based on the third edition of Desiderius Erasmus’ Greek New Testament (1522).

And so, it is interesting to note the view held by Erasmus – arguably the most learned man of his time in the entire world regarding the Greek NT - concerning Christian faith, the participation of Christians in military service and warfare, and the lust for war. His thoughts on such, quoted below, were penned in 1516 in a work created for the man who came to be known as King Charles V.

“Even if we allow that some wars are just, yet since we see that all mankind is plagued by this madness, it should be the role of wise priests to turn the minds of people and princes to other things. Nowadays we often see them as very firebrands of war. Bishops are not ashamed to frequent the camp; the cross is there, the body of Christ is there, the heavenly sacraments become mixed up in this worse than hellish business, and the symbols of perfect charity are brought into these bloody conflicts. Still more absurd, Christ is present in both camps, as if fighting against himself. It is not enough for war to be permitted between Christians; it must also be accorded the supreme honor.

“The Hebrews were allowed to engage in war, but with God’s permission. On the other hand, our oracle, which re-echoes again and again in the pages of the Gospel, argues against war—and yet we make war with more wild enthusiasm than the Hebrews.

“I would merely exhort the princes who bear the name of Christian to set aside all trumped-up claims and spurious pretexts and apply themselves seriously and whole-heartedly to making an end of this long-standing and terrible mania among Christians for war, and to establishing peace and harmony among those who are united by so many common interests.”

   Desiderius Erasmus (The Education of a Christian Prince)

links: this went thru my mind (on violence)

 

This post marks the last in the regular series of posts this year of links to reading on matters pertaining to faith in Christ and violence.

V-for-violence

Armed security & churches: Of Swords And Plowshares

“I’m talking about churches using armed guards during worship services. …  What kind of message do we send when we have guards to put up the facade of all things being under control, of everything being safe? Is that what God calls the church to be?”

Assassination: John F. Kennedy: The Day

“This month marks 50 years since his assassination in Dallas, an event that jarred the nation and fueled a multitude of conspiracy theories about whether Kennedy was killed by a single gunman acting alone in the Texas School Book Depository. Here are some images from that fateful day as it unfolded.”

Full contact sports: Quitting the N.F.L.: For John Moffitt, the Money Wasn’t Worth It

“The heightened awareness of football’s physical tolls has prompted hundreds of former players to express regret over what the sport did to their bodies. Yet Moffitt is unique for openly discussing his injuries and the brutal reality of playing in the N.F.L.”

Iran & nuclear weapons: How Bush Let Iran Go Nuclear

“If Mr. Bush had decided to display American leadership and exercise American power by launching a diplomatic campaign against Iran rather than a military one against Iraq 10 years ago, the United States’ international standing would be far greater today.

“The Bush administration’s decision to go after Iraq rather than Iran was a fatal one, and the long-term consequences are only now becoming clear, namely a devastating American failure in the battle to prevent a nuclear Iran, reflected in Washington’s willingness to sign a deeply flawed agreement.”

Nonviolence, pacifism & pacifist: * You’re Not a Pacifist, Are You? [essential reading]; * The Lion, the Witch and the War [essential reading]

* “… I am not a political pacifist. What I am is a Christian. And as a Christian we can talk about how Christ informs humanity on the subject of violence.”

* “My prayer for all Christians is that we’d be brave enough to take Jesus seriously and to do what He asks us to do – live peacefully by loving our enemies, turning the other cheek and doing good to those who hate us, but that will only be possible if we put our trust in God and know that Jesus’ way of peace isn’t intended to be a success strategy, it’s a love strategy. Or perhaps instead of allowing our culture to define ‘success’ for us, we Christians need to redefine it as following Jesus well by loving all people.”

Rape: The Bible and Rape

“That the Bible sets a high standard for sexual purity should motivate the Bible’s readers to take sexual violence all the more seriously—and to leave the blame only with the responsible party.”

151 years ago today in Beech Grove, Tennessee

 

On this day, Nov. 13, in Beech Grove (Coffee County), Tennessee, in 1862, a number of elders and preachers from several Churches of Christ in that area met together and drafted a letter to the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. A copy of this same letter was also sent to then governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson. A portion of the letter read:

“A large number of the members of the Churches of Jesus Christ throughout this and the adjoining counties of the State of Tennessee … are firm in the conviction of the truth, that no man, who regards the authority of God … can in any manner engage in, aid, foment, or countenance the strifes, animosities, and bloody conflicts in which civil governments are frequently engaged, and in which they often involve their subjects …

“With these considerations of what our duty to God requires at our hands, the enforcement of the ‘Conscript Act’ for the purpose of raising and maintaining an army, for the carrying on of this unhappy war in which our country is involved, cannot fail to work indescribable distress to those members of our churches holding these convictions.” (Restoration Quarterly 8:4 [1965]: 235)

Their plea was heard and resulted in Jefferson Davis extending an exemption law already passed by the Confederate Congress that allowed members of some churches to claim conscientious objector status. As a result, a huge percentage of the men who were members of Churches of Christ in central Tennessee chose not to, and were not forced to, join the military. Writing in light of such four years later, David Lipscomb said:

“The position assumed by the Churches of Christ in Middle Tennessee in hours of fearful trial and trouble … alone saved them from almost total ruin.” (Gospel Advocate [July 3, 1866]: 419)

Consider this:

what it must have been like for Christians to stand their ground of conviction regarding nonviolence even as the lives of their own family and friends were at stake and the lust for war raged ever higher;

how it is that both our understanding of Christian faith and the practical expression of it has come to change so very much across the decades, to the point that we are now quite unlike our ancestors in faith;

and how we as Christians today would best serve our Lord and Savior – yes, their Lord and Savior – by doing likewise.

And so:

let our own minds be made up now, in a relative time of peace, to serve Christ Jesus in this way – nonviolent ways – always, lest when the time of war does arrive, as it always does, we be swept up and swept along with our passions and the fever of war that always sweeps so many away;

may the heroes we celebrate and hold up to our children and grandchildren as models and examples of truly great and mature Christian faith be those who fight the battles of this life not with weapons made by human hands, but with decidedly the opposite - the ways of Jesus Christ;

and let us pray. Come, Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, and swiftly, that all bloodshed and war, hatred and strife, would forever cease. Amen.

links: this went thru my mind (on violence)

 

V-for-violenceChildren, toy guns & violence: Children Steamroll Weapons in Iraq

“… hundreds of toy weapons collected by children in Iraq.  With the help of some big people, the kids drove a steam roller over the pile weapons smashing them to oblivion.”

Christian martyrdom & persecution: The War on Christians [essential reading]

“The global persecution of churchgoers is the unreported catastrophe of our time.”

Forgiveness & murder: Forgiving (and Loving!) Your Only Son’s Killer

“Mary Johnson’s only son, 20 year old Laramiun Byrd, was murdered during a fight at a party by 16 year old Oshea Israel. Mary visited Oshea in prison and they experienced a miracle of forgiveness and healing that is evidence of divine grace.”

Pacifism & Revelation: * Greg’s Response to Driscoll’s “Is God a Pacifist” (parts 1, 2 & 3) [required reading]; * If Jesus is a Pansy, I Want to Be One, Too – Reflections on Christlikeness

* “I’m sure many of you have read Mark Driscoll’s recent blog titled “Is God a Pacifist?” in which he argues against Christian pacifism. I’ve decided to address this in a series of three posts, not because I think Driscoll’s arguments are particularly noteworthy, but because it provides me with an opportunity to make a case against what I’ve come to see is probably the most common way that Christians try to get around the pacifist implications of Jesus’ (and the rest of the NT’s) teachings on loving enemies. It centers on the allegedly violent Jesus of the book of Revelation.”

* “… when we think of Jesus, we have a choice to make if we are truly committing our lives to follow him. Either he taught nonviolent resistance or he did not.”

links: this went thru my mind (on violence)

 

Christians, desensitization & violence: Why Don’t We Find Bloodshed Repugnant Anymore?

“Sociologist Rodney Stark has argued that early Christianity ‘brought a new conception of humanity to a world saturated with capricious cruelty and the vicarious love of death.’ He attributes much of the church’s remarkable growth to the fact that it ‘gave to its converts … nothing less than their humanity.’ A consistent pro-life ethic, by honoring what God honors, makes a powerful witness.”

Christianity, Islam, nonviolence & pacifism: * The Challenge of Malala to the Church; * Malala Yousafzai and the Tradition of Islamic Nonviolence

* “Like Malala, one must be willing to bear witness to the way of love and then say with a giggle, ‘now do what you want.’

“The thought I’m struck with watching this interview is this: if a 14-yr-old girl, raised in a culture that does not look to Christ or the NT for guidance, can see the truth and beauty of this insight, how is it that the vast majority of professing Jesus-followers in the western church today cannot see it, despite the fact that Jesus and the NT so emphatically and so clearly teach it (e.g. Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:14-21)?”

* “Malala’s nonviolence in the face of brutality brings up an important question about Islam. Many people assume that Islam is inherently violent and out to conquer the world. If that’s the case, then how do we explain Malala and the countless other Muslims who have fought for justice through nonviolence?”

Jerusalem, Micah, promises, prophesy & war: Micah 4:1-5 – Hope Despite the Injustices and War [essential reading]

“We invite all nations to enter the kingdom of God, that is, to come learn of God. … We invite all nations to learn war no more. If the kingdom of God, when it has fully come, includes the destruction of weapons of war and the pursuit of peace, then if the church is the presence of the kingdom within the world it must advocate and pursue peace. … We invite all nations to seek peace and prosperity without fear. … The church, if it is the presence of the kingdom in the present, must advocate for the poor, call the nations to peaceful prosperity, and seek to develop strategies that deal with poverty upon the earth. … Micah’s kingdom vision–his new heaven and new earth vision–calls the church to live as if the future has already come, as if the fullness of the kingdom of God has already arrived.”

John Howard Yoder: A Theologian’s Influence, and Stained Past, Live On

“… John Howard Yoder, America’s most influential pacifist theologian.”

links: this went thru my mind (on violence)

 

Early Christian faith & violence: Were the Church Fathers Consistently Pro-Life? [essential reading]

“… the early Christian writers … are very clear. They explicitly say we don’t kill, and that means we don’t go to gladiatorial games, we’re opposed to abortion, capital punishment is not acceptable, and we don’t kill in war. … For early church fathers, a Christian could not have a political or judicial office where he would have the authority to pronounce a judgment of capital punishment. … The most frequently stated reason that Christians didn’t join the army and go to war is that they didn’t kill. … Every single text that we have on the topic says that Christians don’t kill. And it’s not ambiguous …”

Full contact sports: * When It Comes To Brain Injury, Authors Say NFL Is In A ‘League Of Denial’; * The Ethics of Football

* “‘Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL’s brain bank.’ …  there’s a dialogue beginning about whether you want to let your kids play or not.”

* “Why raise questions about the ethics of football? I see a few reasons for it. … football has grown in importance out of all proportion in terms of the number of people who can actually play it. … football has become a sport ruled by money. … football is dangerous to players’ health and well-being. … in today’s social climate, anyway, football seems to arouse inordinate and even dangerous passions among fans. …

“So what is my solution to the football ethics dilemma? I don’t suggest dropping or banning the sport—except for children not yet old enough to make informed consent decisions about whether they want to risk the injury to their brains. I don’t think boys under, say, 16 should be allowed to play tackle football. For them it should be flag football. And they should be offered alternatives such as soccer.

“However, I think especially Christians should call for a ratcheting down of the intensity of the sport so that it is not so all-consuming in terms of finances, passions, favor (to players), etc. And I think every player should be fully informed about the likelihood of suffering long-term brain injury that is irreversible.

“I also think high school and college counselors should promote information about the dangers of football to their student populations. Many college and university freshmen, for example, dream of “walking on” and becoming a star or just being on the larger team. Even if they never play in an actual game, however, they can suffer brain injury just from practices.”

Responding to violence: 16-Year-Old Malala Yousafzai Leaves Jon Stewart Speechless With Comment About Pacifism [6 min. video; essential viewing]

“… at just 14 years old, a Talib fighter boarded her bus, pointed a pistol at her head, and pulled the trigger. But she survived, made a full recovery in England, and has become and transformative figure in human rights. … ‘what would you do, Malala?”

WMD, the United States & chemical weapons: The United States is Still Getting Rid of its Chemical Weapons

“Syria has been given a year to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal, or face the threat of a U.S. military strike. Yet it may come as a surprise that the United States has still not destroyed all of its massive supply of deadly nerve agents. … The United States estimates it will be at least another decade before it completes destruction of the remaining 10% of its chemical weapons, estimated at more than 3,100 tons.”

links: this went thru my mind (on violence)

 

American exceptionalism & military intervention: Is Vladimir Putin Right?

“… Putin does have this to say in response to American exceptionalism: ‘There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.’

Desensitization, evil, forgiveness, labeling & violence: Good and Evil: Wearing Hitler [required reading]

“We think we have corralled evil to somewhere else, somewhere where “they” live, but then we hear evidence that suggests that if someone just puts on a white coat and pretends to be in charge we will push whatever button they tell us to.”

Government, nonviolence & pacifism: * Responding to Critics of a Pacifist View of the Syrian Crisis (parts 1 & 2) * Can Christians Ever Use Violence? A Discussion with Preston Sprinkle (Part 1); * Can Christians Ever Fight for Peace? A Discussion with Preston Sprinkle (Part 2) [all four of these entries are essential reading]

* “…  to say “God uses the sword-wielding authorities to punish wrongdoers” entails that every time authorities use their sword, God is using them. In logic, this is called a non sequitur – viz. ‘it does not follow.’ If I say, ‘Uncle Joe uses cow dung to fertilize his field,’ it doesn’t mean that every time Uncle Joe’s cows crap they’re fertilizing his field! This is why I stated that God doesn’t approve of the violence of governments: he simply uses them, as much as possible, as he finds them.”

* “Our call is to put on display an alternative to all the kingdoms of this world by refusing all violence and laying down our lives for others – even, and especially, those who identify themselves as our enemies.”

* “… before we ask the question, ‘Can a Christian be president,’ we need to first ask the question, ‘Does the Bible, especially the New Testament, allow Christians to use or command others to use violence to confront evil?’ Put more broadly: ‘Is there anything in the New Testament that encourages believers to put aside their Christian ethic for the sake of their vocation?’”

* “What if America killed all the bad guys, defended its borders, and exported democracy to every nation on earth? What would this accomplish? Would this further the kingdom of God? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it would steer everyone’s gaze away from Jesus as the only true source of peace and toward America as the world’s savior—pax Americana. Rome almost did this in the first century: robbers were nearly stamped out, the Parthians were kept at bay, and Barbarians to the north posed little threat for hundreds of years. Pax Romana. And in Revelation 12 and 13, John said that they were empowered by Satan.”